NORTHCOM Stands Ready, Able to Defend Country
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
"We work seven days a week, 24 hours a day, every day of the year to do everything we can to prevent just the sort of thing that happened in London ... and Madrid," Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating said. "(Terrorism) is not a new form of attack, but the events in London highlight for us that we have got to continually look at how the terrorists think they can come at us."
Keating took over as commander of NORTHCOM in November, becoming the first Navy admiral to lead the command, which was created in 2002. NORTHCOM was established to consolidate missions that previously were the responsibility of various other military organizations.
NORTHCOM has two missions: to conduct operations that prevent, deter and defeat attacks aimed at the United States and its territories and, as directed by the president or the secretary of defense, to provide defense support of civil authorities. The latter part of the mission includes managing the consequences of any disaster that may occur.
As for its primary mission, Keating said, the command takes the defense of the homeland very seriously. And the defense of the homeland begins far from home, he added.
"We take our obligation as a near sacred duty to deter, prevent and defeat attack on our homeland," Keating said. "We want to do it as far away from our shores as possible, which is where we integrate ... with the other combatant commanders."
While the command works with both DoD and the Department of Homeland Security to perform that duty, the admiral said, there is very little overlap between the two departments. But that also means there is very little seam between the two departments.
NORTHCOM checks for seams using what Keating called a "red cell" -- a team that plays terrorist in an effort to try and expose those seams before terrorists can capitalize on them. "(Terrorists) are pretty smart," he said. "We're pretty smart ourselves. We try and think the unthinkable."
Terrorists are flexible and agile, they don't have borders, and they have strong financial backing, the admiral said, making them a formidable foe. NORTHCOM has broad latitude to work outside DoD to stay at least one step ahead of the terrorists, Keating said. But he emphasized the defense secretary is kept in the loop, and that the command works within the confines of the law.
With the launch of the space shuttle Discovery from Cape Canaveral on July 26, the command got to put into practice the second part of its mission.
At the request of NASA, one of NORTHCOM's partner agencies, a joint task force that included a small group from command headquarters deployed to Florida to respond if the space shuttle encountered a challenge that would have aborted the mission.
Had the request for that team's presence not been made, however, NORTHCOM wouldn't have been involved, Keating said. "We do not want to roll into town and elbow everybody out of the way," the admiral explained, as he discussed the command's most recent support of civil authorities. "When our work is done, we will make sure that they are satisfied they don't need us any more, and we'll go."
As it happened, Discovery had a successful launch, and Keating said it was a special moment as the U.S. returned to space after a two-year absence. "We feel great. All of us as a country should feel great that NASA is back doing what we expect them to do and what they train so hard to do," Keating said.
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